A woman sitting at a table coughing into her sleeve.
Cough-variant asthma differs from the classic type, as it produces a chronic dry cough.

What is Cough-Variant Asthma?

Sometimes asthma does not cause typical symptoms. For example, cough-variant asthma is a type of asthma that usually only causes coughing as the primary symptom. Although fewer symptoms are present, cough-variant asthma can interfere with daily activities, including sleep. This article looks at seven treatment options for cough-variant asthma and how to manage the condition.

Cough-Variant Asthma Treatment

Although symptoms may appear to be less severe, it is vital to treat cough variant asthma. Even though wheezing and other classic asthma symptoms are not present, airway inflammation often develops.
Many of the same treatments used to manage classic asthma are recommended for cough variant asthma. Here are what the treatment options include.

1. Identifying and Reducing Triggers

One of the best ways to decrease symptoms is figuring out the triggers. Similar to classic asthma, certain things may trigger coughing in cough-variant asthma. Consider keeping a journal to write down when symptoms occur and activities you were doing, as well as the weather and environmental conditions. Once you identify possible triggers, take steps to reduce exposure.

2. Take Bronchodilators

Bronchodilators are a class of medication that relaxes the muscles of the airway. Once the muscles relax, it may help decrease constriction and subsequent coughing. Common bronchodilators include albuterol and Atrovent. Bronchodilators are given through a nebulizer, HFA inhaler, or a soft-mist inhaler. They work quickly to ease asthma symptoms. For people who experience coughing at bedtime that interferes with sleep, taking a bronchodilator before bed may help.

3. Use a Steroid Inhaler

It appears that people with cough-variant asthma also develop airway inflammation. To treat inflammation, use a steroid inhaler. Inhaled corticosteroids can reduce inflammation and may decrease coughing. Common steroid inhalers include Flovent and Qvar.

4. Codeine

Codeine is a medication used to treat pain, but it is also helpful to treat coughing. For people who do not respond to other types of treatment, codeine may help. However, codeine can become addictive, so it is important to avoid using it long-term.

5. Take Antihistamines

Some people develop cough-variant asthma due to allergies. By reducing the allergic reaction, it often stops coughing. Common allergy medications include antihistamines. Normally, when your body reacts to an allergen, it releases histamine. Histamine leads to many of the common allergy symptoms, such as coughing. Medications containing antihistamines block this process and may prevent an allergic reaction and asthma-related coughing.

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6. Quit Smoking

Although smoking does not cause cough-variant asthma, it can make symptoms worse. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about effective ways to manage cravings and kick the habit. You should also try to limit exposure to secondhand smoke, which can also be an allergen.

7. Try Essential Oils

More studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of essential oils in treating asthma, but some research indicates inhaling certain essential oils may help reduce allergy-related inflammation. For example, research in the journal Life Sciences found that inhaling lavender oil may help with asthma by reducing inflammation. Keep in mind, essential oils do not take the place of fast-acting inhalers to treat asthma attacks quickly.

Often, a combination of the above treatments is needed to ease symptoms of cough-variant asthma. As with any type of asthma, it is vital to work with your doctor to develop an effective treatment plan.

How Does Cough-Variant Asthma Differ From Other Types of Asthma?

Usually, asthma causes constriction and inflammation of the airways. Increased mucus production can also develop. Typically, the combination above causes several asthma symptoms, such as:

  • Wheezing.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Productive cough.
  • Shortness of breath.

Cough-variant asthma is different because it does not cause many of the common asthma symptoms. Instead, the only symptom is a chronic cough.

Although cough-variant asthma has fewer symptoms, if left untreated, it can develop into typical asthma. In fact, according to a study published in Current Respiratory Medicine Reviews, up to 40% of adults with cough-variant asthma go on to develop classic asthma.

Common Symptoms of Cough-Variant Asthma

A chronic cough is the main symptom. Although coughing can also develop with classic asthma, it tends to be productive. This means mucus is present.

With cough-variant asthma, it is more common for the cough to be dry or nonproductive.
The characteristics of the cough include:

  • A cough that is not explained by other causes.
  • A dry cough that lasts at least six weeks.
  • Coughing that may be worse at night.

If you suspect that you have these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor to get a proper diagnosis and begin a treatment plan.